Stowaway is a science fiction thriller written by Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison and directed by Penna. Showing on Netflix from today, the on-screen blurb describes this movie as “A three-person crew on a mission to Mars faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger jeopardizes the lives of everyone on board”. This description makes the film sound exciting but what we instead have is a morose drama. Aside from being set in a spaceship, this flick barely qualifies as “science fiction” and it isn’t exactly a “thriller”. Stowaway has the plodding pace of something like Ad Astra and the self-importance of Interstellar. Given the plot which purports to be about human endurance and scientific creativity, this doesn’t even have the upbeat positivity of something like The Martian either. Instead we the audience are faced with an un-enthralling and rather boring space movie that skirts around weighty issues such as survival, sacrifice, and euthanasia but where every character keeps talking each other to death.
The film stars Toni Collette who plays Marina Barnett, the ship’s commander, Anna Kendrick plays Zoe Levenson, a medical researcher, Daniel Dae Kim plays David Kim, the ship’s biologist, and Shamier Anderson plays Michael Adams, the stowaway and launch support engineer. Despite a decent cast (everyone aside from Kendrick) there’s no real emotional engagement from the characters. Since you don’t feel invested in them in any way, you don’t care if they live or die. This is all down to the director. Joe Penna’s still, almost point and shoot direction prevents this story from being moving or intriguing when it could potentially have been, although that being said, a 3D-printed arm cast, dying algae, and a shot of Pentobarbital isn’t exactly peril. An injection where you feel no pain and simply fall asleep and die? My thoughts were “hand it over”. It’s not exactly sacrifice to have your final forty winks in space; it’s as good a death as any. The fictitious company responsible for this death-in-space debacle is named “Hyperion” because I assume NASA doesn’t want to be seen as murderers (although given The Challenger disaster they were practically manslaughter-ers).
I have no idea what the point of this film is since space movies have been done to death with nothing interesting or innovative being added to the genre this side of the millennium. It’s a 2 year mission to Mars (yawn) their oxygen is depleting (yawn) they have to go outside the spaceship and stick this thingumabob into that thingamajig (yawn). Apart from a few tears from the actors, none of the “difficult” decisions feel difficult; injecting yourself, having a bit of a space walk… just get on with it! The movie ends with Zoe saying why she applied to the doomed mission but even that doesn’t feel emotional.
So what is this film trying to convey? Not poignancy and definitely not realism. Their module can sustain two or three lives but not four. Oh well, abort the mission and get back to Earth, since they’re still docked in a space station not too far from our planet by the looks of things. But no, they’ve gone “too far” to turn back apparently, despite Earth being visible through their window.
After a CGI’d necklace during the opening, the artificial gravity is immediately activated because the budget doesn’t allow for weightlessness I guess. This is a cheap TV movie that would have looked even worse had it been shown in the cinemas and the repetitive stringed score doesn’t make you feel cinematic-ally riveted either. The main issue however is not the setting or the sounds; there’s almost zero thrills thanks to the drab direction which never puts you in harm’s way and this makes for a dull sci-fi film that’s best avoided.
I feel the need to reiterate that both writing and direction really are sub-par. There’s a solar storm warning followed by a shot of a hand for what feels like thirty seconds, there’s talking, and more talking including a conversation about the merits of Jazz music, there’s fiddling with instruments without telling the audience what they are, having chats with mission control but never hearing their voices… it all adds up to a lifeless movie… which could have been apt, but not in the hands of Mr. Penna.
Stowed Well Away.